Ferris State four-year starter is a one-man offensive explosion

Jason Vander Laan (Courtesy Ferris State Athletics)

By Monday afternoon, Jason Vander Laan’s phone and social media accounts had tapered off to a manageable roar. Ferris State’s record-setting quarterback could almost get back to football and school and unfinished business.

Vander Laan is well known already — All-American, Harlon Hill Trophy recipient, NCAA Scholar-Athlete. But his profile elevated several notches last weekend when he became the career leader for rushing yards by a quarterback, in all divisions. That earned him a shoutout from the ESPN Gameday crew and a subsequent interview on SportsCenter, along with various regional and national mentions.

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“Sunday was definitely the biggest day, with Twitter and Facebook and other things,” Vander Laan said Monday. “Stuff was blowing up all day. It was hard to just relax. But it’s calmed down a little bit now.”

Vander Laan’s 161 rushing yards in a win against Ohio Dominican last Saturday gave him 5,218 for his career, breaking the record held by Wofford’s Shawn Graves (5,128) from 1989-92.

He figures to add to his total as the unbeaten Bulldogs (6-0), ranked fourth in this week’s Division II coaches’ poll, host No. 17 Michigan Tech (5-1) Saturday at noon in Big Rapids, Mich.

Vander Laan, a four-year starter, is the conductor of an offense that’s fourth nationally in scoring (45.3 ppg), third in total yards (543.5 ypg) and ninth in rushing (278 ypg). He is fifth nationally in total offense, averaging 388.2 yards per game. He has accounted for 25 touchdowns, rushing and passing.

“He’s incredible to coach,” Ferris State coach Tony Annese said. “He’s a gift; he really is the perfect kid to coach. He’s never concerned with himself. It’s always about the team. He sets the record on Saturday and Sunday we’re in film session, and he graded poorly in a couple areas. You tell him about it, he just takes it all in. He’s always focused on trying to get better.”

Jason Vander Laan (Courtesy Ferris State Athletics)
Jason Vander Laan (Courtesy Ferris State Athletics)

At 6-4 and 242 pounds, Vander Laan is bigger than most linebackers and many overstuffed mascots. But he is far from just a bruiser who happens to play quarterback. He broke the record Saturday with a 53-yard touchdown run, so he has wheels and can separate. He clocked 4.57 seconds in the 40-yard dash prior to this season and ran a 4.52 last year.

He is completing 66 percent of his passes (119-for-180) for 1,522 yards, with 12 touchdowns and just three interceptions. He is a career 63-percent passer, and since the start of the 2014 season he has a 42-to-10 touchdown-interception ratio.

“Everything I’ve done is a product of our whole team,” said Vander Laan, who has thrived since Annese arrived four years ago. “Under the old system, they didn’t run the quarterback as much. The coaching staff puts us in position to be successful, and we have an incredible offensive line that allows us to make plays.”

Vander Laan is humbled by his accomplishments and mindful of the good fortune bestowed on him. He does work in the community, time permitting, and during spring break of his first three years at Ferris, he was part of disaster relief missions in North Carolina, Alabama and Florida. One of two older sisters went to Liberia and helped establish a medical clinic and a Christian school.

“That’s something our parents instilled in us,” Vander Laan said. “Being a scholarship athlete, you have so many opportunities and it’s good to give back because there are so many people less fortunate, even here at home.”

Vander Laan was awarded the Harlon Hill Trophy last year, essentially the D-II Heisman. Last summer, he was named the NCAA Division II Male Scholar-Athlete of the Year for 2014-15, which encompasses all athletes in all sports. He carries a 3.78 grade point average and majors in Actuarial Science, a math-heavy curriculum that deals with design, financing and operations of insurance plans. Both awards were remarkable, he said, but he aims for more.

“Our goal is to win a national championship,” he said. “If we do that, that’ll be better than either of those awards.”

Above: Ferris State’s Jason Vander Laan is back to business after breaking the rushing record. (Courtesy Ferris State Athletics)
Dave Fairbank

Dave Fairbank

Dave Fairbank is a freelance writer based in Kill Devil Hills, N.C.